Kobe Bryant was a renowned champion, celebrated the world over for his sporting prowess, and philanthropic work, and his death earlier in the year was mourned by all. What many don’t know about Bryant is that he was also a talented storyteller and one who was committed to bringing stories from the courts to the page, spotlighting the experiences of children in sport, with an extra touch of magic. This particular avenue resulted in his founding of Granity Studios,
An award winning multimedia original content company focused on creating new ways to tell stories around sports. Stories that are crafted to entertain, by bringing education and inspiration together…with award-winning writers, producers and illustrators to awaken the imagination of young athletes and foster emotional and mental development that allows them to reach their full potential.
The latest book from Granity is Geese Are Never Swans, which was created by Bryant, and written by Eva Clark. The story follows a young swimmer named Gus, who is determined to make it to the Olympics, with the help of Coach Marks. One of the obstacles in Gus’ way is that Coach Marks was his brother’s coach, and his brother committed suicide after losing out on his shot at the Olympics by failing to make the national team.
In this powerful novel about the punishing and the healing nature of sports, Gus’s rage threatens to swallow him at every turn. He’s angry at his brother, his mother, his coach . . . even himself. But as he works through his feelings and toward his goal, Gus does everything he can to channel his anger into excelling at the sport that he and Danny both loved, finding solace in the same place he must face his demons: the water.
The novel was created by Bryant and written by Eva Clark. Eva Clark is a psychologist and an award-winning young adult novelist. As a psychologist, she focuses on mental health, social justice, and sports. As an author, her focus is on creating stories that help young people discover their best selves. Clark lives in California with her family. I spoke with author Eva about the book, its process, and the tragic loss of such a committed sportsman and creator. What struck me initially about the book was its title. Clark says the title originated from the saying “geese are always swans”. The idea pertains to somebody who assumes everything they have is the best/always looks on the bright side/ has the glass half full etc. The book’s title is the flipside of that. With Gus’ struggles in his personal and sporting life, it is unsurprising that the optimism behind “geese are always swans” is flipped on its head for his story.
Bryant’s idea for the book came from his reflection on the loneliness of swimming, having spent time with elite swimmers during the Olympics. Clark says that a lot of where the idea came from was looking at swimming as a sport that isn’t done in a team, which means its athletes don’t often get a lot of interaction with others, which creates a loneliness that differs from the narrative of sport as a communicative and social outlet. Not only that, “Kobe was interested in writing a story that was about the competitive drive urge to be great/the best/known. What IS that drive/characteristic? When is it a strength or a weakness?” This served as the original kernel of motivation behind the story.
Perhaps most serendipitous is the book’s focus on grief, and dealing with the idea of mortality as best we can. Of course, the novel was finished prior to Kobe’s untimely death, but the book that now forms part of his impressive legacy can also be utilized to help young fans come to terms with his death. For many, particularly those quite young, the stigma around death and mortality hinders the grieving process, but expression through exercise, and reading, can help in a myriad of ways. Geese Are Never Swans rests at the intersection of both, and is something for which Bryant will surely be remembered.
Clark is no stranger to fiction, having written many brilliant works prior, but says that working in collaboration with Bryant was an “interesting” and “different” process; “what’s neat about collaboration is that it’s something you can enjoy… writing can be lonely. [In collaboration] you’re always producing something that no one person can come up with”. This collaborative process extends to design too, as the novel contains several beautiful works of art throughout. While these were not created to impact the story of the book itself, they complement it wonderfully, and as Clark states, are “very special.” These pieces were created by members of the mental health community, and tie-in to the story’s overarching mental health message. This concept is important to the Granity company, too, who have stated that they are proud to advocate for emotional wellness, and as such, have included contact information for The Hidden Opponent, and The Michael Phelps Foundation, leading organizations in the athletic community that are incredible resources for mental health support.
When asked about this idea, and what she hopes readers will gain from the story as it is released, Clark says that she hopes it will “start mental health conversations about treatment and stigma, and how it intertwines with youth sports.” Much of the stigma comes from the idea that sport and its players must be stoic, but Clark hopes Geese Are Never Swans will show them “that it’s ok to ask for help. [GANS] explores ideas of when asking for help is a strength.” Lastly, and perhaps most poignantly, she hopes it helps instill “an appreciation for the stories that Kobe wanted to champion and found important.”
Geese Are Never Swans is available everywhere from July 21st.